Our family is looking for ways to cut costs pretty much everywhere. One place we are spending more than I anticipated is with chicken feed. I have not done everything correctly when it comes to feeding my chickens, thus costing me more money. I have allowed the chickens to constantly have access to food, which can cause overeating. Chickens really only need about 1/3 of a pound of feed per day. By me allowing them free choice I have no idea what amount they are consuming and if they are possibly eating more than is healthy. Below is a list of ways you can reduce feed costs. Some of them I already do, but am planning on trying all of these in the next year.
1. Allowing your chickens to free range as much as possible definitely helps with the feed bill. In the summer months, my chickens fill up on all the bugs and weeds in the yard. They would much prefer that than chicken feed anyways. Free ranging makes for healthier chickens which then translates to better quality eggs and even greater production.
2. Save your kitchen scraps for the chickens. My chickens are so used to getting treats from me that whenever I open the door to my deck and walk out they are already in a mad scramble to be the first chicken to arrive. I don’t even have to call them anymore. If for some reason I need to put them up early, I take the treats over to the coop door and call them. They run right in and I am able to close them up. Not every kitchen scrap is safe for chickens, however. Check out this link for a great reference to know what is safe.
3. You can put grass clippings or pulled weeds into their chicken run. They will eat some of the grass, but there are sure to be some bugs mixed in there for them as well. Also, the grass will eventually be composting with their waste and can be put in the compost pile.
4. Something I am going to try and get set up for next spring is finding a local farmer that will give me damaged produce, that isn’t able to be sold, in exchange for eggs. This will be a great way for the chickens to get some additional food and should significantly reduce my feed costs.
5. Obviously, the more eggs you are able to sell, the more that helps pay for your feed. When my chickens are at their prime laying I have way more eggs than my family can consume. Selling just a few dozen each month can make it where I barely pay anything for their feed. The problem comes in the winter. When there are less daylight hours the chickens do not reliably lay. Some people add heat lamps in their coops in the winter, to provide warmth and to encourage them to keep laying. Each winter I have had chickens I have done less and less lighting. To me, this is a natural thing and provides the hens a much needed break. I do still use heat lamps if we have a week or so of very cold weather. Last winter I probably used lights in the coop for maybe 10-15 days over the course of the season. Another thing that can be bad with heat lamps, besides being a fire hazard, is when the chickens do travel out of the coop there is a greater temperature change making them less likely to be able to adjust well.
6. Another way to use extra eggs is to cook them and give them back to the chickens. You never want to give chickens raw eggs, because it can encourage them to start eating eggs. Cooked is fine, though, and again reduces feed costs. You can also wash, dry, and then crumble all your eggshells to feed back to them. The eggshells provide much needed calcium for your hens and will result in better quality eggs. You can also offer your chickens oyster shell, but that is an added cost. The more frugal way is to save those eggshells to give back to them. My chickens love them!
7. I am looking into starting a worm farm. They are wonderful for your compost pile and the chickens will be delighted to get some juicy worms thrown to them. Some people do maggots, but that is just not something I am willing to try!
8. You can also grow your own fodder for your chickens. I can get a 50 lb. bag of wheat from my local feed store for $10. That ends up being a significant amount of food for your chickens. If you have grow lights to get your garden season started earlier, then you are already prepared. All winter you can grow fodder for your chickens in your house and they will love you for it! Well, if they have emotions!
9. Planting perennial edibles is also a good idea such as dandelion, nettles, and sunchokes. You can also plant clover, alfalfa and other grains. Mulberry trees are great, as well, but obviously will take longer before you get a return on that.
10. The hardest part for me is this last one. A way to cut down on feed costs is to cull non-productive layers. We actually have several right now that are ready for the freezer, but I am struggling with completing the task. I wouldn’t say it is because I am super attached to them. I learned very early on to never name my chickens. Any chicken I named was always the one that got eaten by a predator. I do know, though, that it is part of being a homesteader so at some point I’m just going to have to suck it up and get it done.
If you are looking to be more self-sufficient, chickens should be one of your first investments. Hopefully these ideas will help you keep your feed costs down, making those delicious eggs taste even better! And, as always, let me know in the comments if you have other ideas!